European Union to open entry talks with Turkey

12th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

12 June 2006, LUXEMBOURG - The European Union on Monday was set to open formal membership talks with Turkey after Cyprus lifted a last minute veto on the negotiations.

12 June 2006

LUXEMBOURG - The European Union on Monday was set to open formal membership talks with Turkey after Cyprus lifted a last minute veto on the negotiations.

In a monthly review of global hotspots, EU ministers also voiced concern at the upsurge of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Suspense over whether Cyprus would give the go-ahead to the long-awaited start of formal entry negotiations with Turkey - on the uncontroversial science and research chapter - dominated the start of the meeting of EU foreign ministers.

As German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned that a last-minute cancellation of the accession talks would send a "negative signal" to Ankara, Cyprus continued to insist that negotiations must be made conditional on Turkish moves to normalize relations with Nicosia.

An eleventh-hour deal hammered out by the Austrian EU presidency saved the day, however, with Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou finally giving a thumbs up to the opening of talks with Turkey.

The EU statement called for full implementation of the Ankara Protocol under which Turkey agreed to extend its customs union with the EU to Cyprus and to open its ports to Cypriot ships.

"Failure to implement its obligations in full will affect the overall progress in (accession) negotiations," the EU statement said.

The EU also referred to a declaration it made in September last year which asked Turkey to recognize Cyprus.

Cyprus had earlier blocked the launch of negotiations in protest at Ankara's failure to allow Cypriot ships to enter Turkish ports.

Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul had threatened to stay away from the Luxembourg meeting if Cyprus blocked the EU entry talks, but diplomats said he was now expected to attend the meeting.

Cyprus' tough stance, however, is a sign of the obstacle course that Ankara has to run as it struggles to negotiate entry into the 25-nation bloc.

Diplomats said Nicosia was likely to make similar demands at the start of negotiations on all 35 "chapters" that Turkey must discuss with the EU as part of the accession talks.

Under EU rules, each negotiating chapter can only be considered closed if all 25 states agree. Cyprus obtained an EU pledge on Monday that the chapter on science and research could be reopened if progress was not made on an upgrade of Ankara's ties with Nicosia.

The 25-nation EU agreed to open membership talks with mainly Muslim Turkey on 3 October 2005. Since then the European Commission has been "screening" Turkish rules and regulations to see how far they conform with EU requirements.

EU failure to reach a compromise on Monday would have meant a major setback in Turkey's EU accession process, risking a period of tense relations between Ankara and Brussels.

The second chapter in line, on education and culture, promises to be much more sensitive than the one on science and research.

Member states wary of Turkish accession, such as France and the Netherlands, have signalled they will raise political issues related to education, such as equal access to schools for girls and boys.

Minority rights and the portrayal of minorities in school books could also figure in the education and culture talks, diplomats said.

Turkey, which has 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus, does not recognize the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia.

Focusing on Middle East issues, EU chief diplomat Javier Solana warned the region was headed for more turmoil after leaders of Hamas' armed wing announced the end of a 16-month unilateral truce and Israel threatened to attack the militant group's members.

Hamas' decision to end the truce "complicates everything" Solana said, adding that "it would be a serious mistake" if Israel, in response, attacked any Hamas leader.

Such an act would "plunge the region into a spiral of senseless violence," said Solana.


Subject: German news

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